AGC Takes the Lead Providing Industry Input On Major Changes Looming for Cal/OSHA VPP Program
By Kate Smiley, AGC of California Safety & Health Director, and Wade Obermann, Swinerton Builders
Major changes are in the works to Cal/OSHA’s much vaunted Voluntary Protection Program for Construction (VPP-C) – considered by many to be the “crown jewel” in Cal/OSHA’s cooperative partnering approach – and AGC of California is taking the lead providing industry input to ensure that any programming changes are balanced, preserve the overall integrity of the program and take construction industry interests into account.
Expected to go into effect in 2013, the changes being drafted to the VPP-C program were precipitated by recent Federal OSHA audits, which included review of the Voluntary Protection Program originally rolled out by Cal/OSHA more than a decade ago. The three-tiered program, which leverages the strength of enforcement, compliance and consultation efforts by partnering regulatory agency oversight with private industry efforts, includes the entry level Golden Gate status, intermediate SHARP level, and advanced VPP-C level.
The program’s goal is first and foremost to improve workplace safety and health for all workers and at the same time mitigate the regulatory burden faced by contractors who have demonstrated that they make workplace safety a top priority and have met key program benchmarks with measurable results. Up until now, all jobsites for a qualifying contractor (regardless of location in California) have automatically been included in the partnership and thus have been exempt from Cal-OSHA programmed inspections. Members continue to be subject to any inspections that may be warranted by a complaint or a qualifying injury.
That is soon going to change, however. Federal OSHA considered the blanket exemption to programmed inspections on a company’s various construction sites a major sticking point and was not comfortable with Cal/OSHA granting such exemptions at all jobsites, including those that had never been audited into the program in the first place.
The end result has been a re-examination of the entire program by Cal/OSHA. The agency approached AGC seeking industry input to address changes it would be required to institute to ensure that federal funding remains in place for the California program.
AGC and several member firms that are currently part of the VPP-C program have participated in a series of meetings and other communication with Cal/OSHA on this vital issue. A meeting at AGC’s West Sacramento headquarters on November 8, 2012 brought Cal/OSHA representatives, Chief Ellen Widess, Program Manager Vicky Heza and Regional Manager Jim Lopes together with AGC of California Safety and Health Director Kate Smiley, AGC of California President John Nunan and several leading AGC contractor members to discuss the proposed changes. At the crux of the discussion for the general contractors is the question of program change integration – namely, how the changes will affect companies’ existing long term strategies for safety excellence, and the question of IF the Division’s key elements or “must haves” will enhance long-term business planning principles to set and achieve safety goals. These concerns can negatively affect the decision to participate in the VPP-C by the construction industry.
So what’s on the horizon? Among the major changes that have been debated and are likely to be part of the final programming changes are the following:
- The General Contractors (GC) will continue to retain a company wide designation as a VPP Partner “everywhere we do business.”
- Projects will continue to be subject to complaint and injury-driven inspections; however, those inspections should continue to be “focused” to the complaint or injury, and not wall-to-wall.
- There will only be three projects allowed exemption from programmed inspections.
- Any project considered for an exemption to programmed inspections shall be reviewed by Cal/OSHA Consultation prior to receiving the status.
- A member GC may remove projects nearing completion from exempt status in order to submit another project for consideration to a maximum of three exempted projects at any time. (Cal/OSHA may consider additional projects beyond three in the future if resources permit.)
- Though discussion continues, the VPP-C may be allowed to waive the one-year approval period if the contractor already has VPP status as a whole company.
- New provision: Major subcontractors on an exempted site must be working toward Golden Gate status if not already achieved.
- New provision: The GC must collect the information, and be knowledgeable regarding, the site-specific OSHA 300 log for all subcontractors on a project.
- New provision: GC’s may not have an incentive program that intentionally or unintentionally provides employees working on-site an incentive or disincentive to not report injuries or hazards they observe.
These changes are not yet cast in stone. The current 18 GC members of VPP-C are committed to making this beneficial to all those involved. Negotiations are concentrated on maintaining the VPP-C in California as a program worthy of participation.
Cal/OSHA is targeting the first part of next year for implementation of the revised program. There are discussions on how current VPP projects may be grandfathered into the existing program, but that remains to be seen.
The new VPP-C is definitely stricter, but when faced with losing the entire program to a Federal OSHA audit, it is a reasonable compromise. Individual GC’s will have to weigh the merits for themselves.